Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, November 07, 2005

"Landmines and cluster bombs in Afghanistan," November 7, 2005.

Yesterday, Sunday, November 6, was the last day of Landmine Awareness Week. Maybe you missed it, too.

No one talks much about landmines any more.

The campaign to ban landmines was one of the most successful grassroots, non-governmental, civil society movements in history. High-profile NGOs like the Red Cross leant their voices to the call.

Princess Diana campaigned for the ban on landmines.

In October of 1996, Lloyd Axworthy spearheaded a conference in Ottawa which brought together 50 like-minded governments along with 24 observer states and dozens of non-governmental organizations, UN agencies and other international organizations in cooperation with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

The Ottawa Conference laid the groundwork for the Treaty which became binding international law on March 1st, 1999

Axworthy was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize because of his leadership on the landmine issue.

In November 2000 he received the First Annual Canadian Peace Award, and currently, Axworthy is Honourary Chairman of the Canadian Landmine Foundation.

The Canadian Landmine Foundation is a managing partner in the global Adopt-a-Minefield campaign. The internal operating costs of the Foundation are deliberately kept low and are funded by non-government benefactors. Enhanced outreach initiatives are funded by monthly donors. Campaign donations are not used for operating purposes; 100% of campaign donations are used to fund mine action projects.

Just a month after Axworthy received the Canadian Peace Award, CBC Radio threw a Concert for a Landmine Free World. Everyone, it seems, has done their bit and now the international treaty defines what banning landmines is all about.
Or does it?

Trade in landmines has gone from 43 countries in 1995 to 0 today. Producers have dropped from 54 to 12, only 2 of which produced last year. 62 million landmines in stockpile have been destroyed.

According to Megan Burke, programme manager for Adopt-A-Minefield in the US, "Fewer mines are being laid than are being taken out of the ground, and the number of new victims is on the decline.... [She says,] 'With fewer victims, it is now possible to address the more indirect ways that landmines kill and terrorise - through food insecurity, unemployment, and so on. Once mines are removed from agricultural land, countries that now must rely on handouts can grow their own food and support their own populations'" (Nelson When peace Nov 2 05).

"Irena Kuszta of the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) told OneWorld UK. quote “People tend not to notice the way these weapons keep communities in poverty, keep them from digging their land, growing food, sending their children to school.

“If landmines surround broken power lines or water wells, a village might be without power or clean water" endquote (OneWorld).

But last December, Julia Taft of the UN Development Program warned the Nairobi Summit on a Mine Free World that "Heavily land-mined countries like Afghanistan and Angola will *never fully develop* without the removal of these lethal weapons."

Despite being the world's second largest recipient of Official Devlopment Assistance, Afghanistan is still one of the most heavily mined countries in the world.

Men, women and children live in fear of the footpaths and fields around them. Refugees and displaced people are afraid to return to their homes.

Some 8,000 deminers from 15 organizations work to detect, remove, and destroy land mines in Afghanistan alone. In the last decade, some 500 deminers have been killed or injured there by land mines. But that's not the half of it.

Shohab Hakimi, chairman of the Afghan Campaign to Ban Land Mines and the director of the Mine Detection and Dog Center, says that in 2004, the rate at which Afghans were killed or disabled in mine explosions declined to about 100 per month, and those were just the registered cases. (RFE/RL)

A recent study of reported landmine casualties by the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan showed that 91.9% were civilians. More than 50 percent were children. (Cited in AAM Country report)

"Due to a lack of transportation and poor roads, it is believed that almost 50 percent of mine victims die before reaching a medical facility. Most of these cases go unreported" (AAM Country report).

According to the World Health Organization, 65 percent of Afghans have no access to health facilities. (AAM Country report)

[Afghanistan is not the only place where landmines are still a problem.]

According to the Landmine Monitor Report 2004 by Human Rights Watch, (New York, November 2004) a total of 83 countries and territories are affected by the presence of mines. The UN has established programmes in more than 30 of these, starting with Afghanistan in 1989 and Cambodia in 1992. Mines impact the lives of significant numbers of people in about 40 countries. (ICBL)

Meghan Burke says Colombia is now second only to Afghanistan in the number of mine incidents per year.

Adopt A Minefield is launching a programme for Colombia on the 15th of this month. Although circumstances do not allow clearance yet, public education can help prevent accidents and existing landmine survivors can be helped.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines could rightly claim success if it wanted to. But much remains to be done, both at the grassroots level and at the level of international law.

Cluster bombs and other unexploded munitions, known as explosive remnants of war (ERW) are rarely mentioned in news reports about landmines even though they continue to kill long after the fighting has stopped.

Unlike landmines, there is currently no provision in international law that directly addresses the problem of cluster munitions and the devastating effect they have on communities.

In particular, the 1997 landmine treaty does not address them.

Recognizing this, Mines Action Canada, Human Rights Watch, the Mennonite Central Committee, and NGOs from Russia, Egypt, the Netherlands, Ireland, Nepal, the UK and Austria met in the Hague two years ago next Sunday to form the Cluster Munitions Coalition. That coalition calls for a ban on production and use of cluster bombs, for increased resources to affected communities, and for "Users of cluster munitions and other munitions that become Explosive Remnants of War [to] accept special responsibility for clearance, warnings, risk education, provision of information and victim assistance" (CMC

The UN estimates that the United States left approximately 25,000 unexploded cluster bomblet units at 103 sites in Afghanistan. Physicians for Human Rights has said that cluster bomblets caused high rates of civilian casualties in Kosovo in 1999. (Nov 2 05)

Furthermore, not all States Parties to the treaty agree that antivehicle mines with anti-handling devices--that is, with sensitive fuses that explode from innocent contact are included in the definition of antipersonnel mines.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines argues that negotiators of the treaty meant to prohibit these devices too. But in the absence of specific treaty language, antivehicle mines with anti-handling devices continue to be controversial and to require clarification.

The most recent country to ratify the Landmines Treaty was Vanuatu on September 16, 2005.

States not party to the Treaty include Myanmar where the army and half the 30 rebel groups in the country still actively deploy landmines, China with the largest stockpile of landmines in the world, Cuba where we might have hoped for better, and Egypt too, and Finland, India, Israel, North *and* South Korea, Pakistan, the Russian Federation, Singapore, and of course, the United States.

"The United States will decide in December 2005 whether it will begin the production of a new antipersonnel mine called Spider" (HRW Aug 3 05).

So the struggle goes on. No victory, however golden, is ever complete or final.

For human beings all change begins with awareness. Megan Burke points out that the Boxing Day tsunami and the earthquake in Kashmir reminded us that landmines remain a burning issue because they hamper relief efforts.

Landmine Awareness Week was launched at the Frontline Club in London last Monday with a screening of Disarm, which features harrowing footage smuggled out of Myanmar, scenes from Colombia and Iraq, never-before-seen helmet camera footage shot by Afghan and Bosnian deminers, and unprecedented access into warehouses stockpiling millions of Soviet-made mines.

On Tuesday, the Death Valley challenge began. A team of cyclists led by Stuart Hughes, a BBC journalist who lost his leg in a landmine explosion in Iraq two years ago, will ride across one of the most extreme environments on the planet, a fundraiser to help clear “the real death valleys - those areas across the world blighted by landmines.”

Other activities included collections at the week’s gigs by the band Athlete and a bonfire campaign to stop children getting injured by fireworks. Did you miss it?

It's not too late. You can still plan something for Ottawa Treaty Day December 3, 2005

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